ATHENS, Ohio — When it came down to it, district experience paid off.
In the Division II district semifinal on Thursday at Ohio University, the second-seeded Fairfield Union boys basketball team punched a ticket to its third straight district final, squeaking out a 49-46 victory over third-seeded Gallia Academy, which was playing in its first district tournament in a decade.
After a pair of early lead changes, Fairfield Union (19-5) held Gallia Academy (20-4) off the board for nearly four minutes, and jumped out to a 9-4 advantage. The Falcons connected on four three-pointers in the opening quarter, and led 16-9 at the end of the stanza.
FUHS led by as many as nine points in the second quarter, but the Blue Devils battled back to within two points, at 25-23. The Falcons’ second triple of the stanza gave them a five-point lead, but Cory Call ended the period with a two-pointer for GAHS, making the Fairfield Union lead 28-25 at halftime.
Gallia Academy took a 29-28 lead on back-to-back Evan Wiseman field goals to start the second half. Fairfield Union briefly regained the lead, but a Justin McClelland trifecta gave the Blue and White a 32-30 edge. The Falcons tied the game twice, but the Blue Devils took a 36-34 advantage into the fourth.
A Kaden Thomas three-pointer gave the Blue Devils a five-point, 39-34 lead with 6:44 to play. However, nine seconds later Spencer Conrad answered with a three-pointer for the Falcons.
Fairfield Union tied the game twice before ultimately taking the advantage, at 43-41, with 2:41 remaining. A two-pointer by McClelland tied the game, at 43, with 2:29 to play, but Evan Conley made two-pointer with 57 seconds to go and then back-to-back free throws with 16 seconds left to give FUHS a four-point, 47-43 lead.
McClelland hit a three-pointer with nine seconds remaining, pulling the Blue and White within one point, at 47-46. Two more free throws by Conley made the Falcon lead three points with eight seconds left. Gallia Academy’s shot to force overtime bounced off of the rim at the buzzer, and Fairfield Union escaped with the 49-46 victory.
“We knew that if we kept the score low, we had an opportunity,” GAHS head coach Gary Harrison said. “They let the game play, it was physical, and it kind of worked to our advantage with our height. We just didn’t make the layups at the end of the game when we had to have them. I’m happy with how our kids battled, they played hard, Fairfield Union is a good team.”
The Blue Devils made 20-of-39 (51.3 percent) field goal attempts, including 5-of-12 (41.7 percent) three-point tries. Fairfield Union shot 18-of-42 (42.9 percent) from the field, including 7-of-19 (36.8 percent) from deep. At the free throw line, GAHS was 1-of-3 (33.3 percent) while FUHS was a perfect 6-of-6.
The Falcons claimed a 20-to-15 edge in rebounding, including 5-to-2 on the offensive end. GAHS recorded all-5 of the game’s blocked shots and had a 13-to-10 advantage in assists, while Fairfield Union claimed a 3-to-2 steals edge. Both teams had four turnovers in the contest.
McClelland hit three triples on his way to a team-best 13 points. Call made one three-pointer and finished with 12 points, all of which came in the first half.
Caleb Henry had eight points for the Blue Devils, while Evan Wiseman and Zach Loveday scored four points apiece, with Wiseman dishing out a team-best four assists and Loveday grabbing a team-high seven rebounds. Kaden Thomas had three points for the Blue and White, while Logan Blouir finished with two.
Loveday blocked four shots for the Blue Devil defense, while Call and Blouir both recorded a steal.
Conley led the FUHS offense with 15 points and four assists. Lucas Thomas hit three triples and finished with 11 points, while Colin Woodside recorded 10 points and a game-high eight boards. Conrad also made a trio of three-pointers on his way to nine points, while Huston Harrah had four points, all in the fourth quarter.
Conley, Woodside and Thompson each had a steal for the Falcon defense.
During the game, Woodside became Fairfield Union’s all-time leading scorer, surpassing a mark that stood for three decades.
Fairfield Union will have to deal with Ohio Valley Conference champion Fairland next, as the Falcons and Dragons battle in the district final on Friday at the Convo.
Gallia Academy must now say farewell to its three seniors.
“Evan Wiseman, Kaden Thomas and Gage Harrison have been with us for four years, they went through the tough times and now they’ve come up through the great times,” Coach Harrison said. “They’ve really brought our basketball program back to where it used to be. They’ve been great leaders this year, they’re a big part of this program and they’re always going to be.”
After reaching 20 wins for the first time in 15 seasons, ending a 10-year sectional title drought, and finishing second in the OVC, the Blue Devils head into the offseason with some of experience of their own.
“I just hate for it to end,” Coach Harrison said. “One thing I can say, as the year went on we got better, that was our main objective. It’s been an unbelievable year, we had some adversity at the beginning, we came together as a team, won a bunch of games in a row, lost a couple, and fought back.
“We won a couple we should have lost, and probably lost one we should have won. The kids never hung their heads, they came to practice ready to play. The mark is going to be really high for next year. I do know that they’re hungry and that this was a great experience for them.”
Alex Hawley can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2100.